Nemo dat quod non-habet :- Legal Maxim | The law IQ

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Can a non-owner pass on a good title which he himself does not possess?


Nemo dat quod non-Habet – à No one can pass on a better title than he himself possesses  – Originà Latin 


According to this maxim, “nobody can give what he himself doesn’t have”. This rule is used to save the interest of the actual owner. This rule describes that when a sale takes place and this is done by a non-owner of an unauthorized person, then such a person passes on no better title than he himself had of such a good. This means in a sale agreement the seller cannot convey a better title than his own.


A buys a machine from B on a hire-purchase basis and further on sells it to D before making payments of all the instalments. Then B can recover the machine directly from D for non-payment of money. As the full ownership has not yet been passed on to A and this will not happen until all the instalments are paid by him.

If Aman the son of Mr Rishabh sold a car to his friend Varun for a price 50,000 below-market rates. This sale agreement was done in the presence of Mr. Rishabh. Later on, Mr Rishabh wanted his car back contending that he did not say yes to the sale. Mr Rishabh cannot claim back his car because the law of estoppel will be applied.

Exceptions to the rule – Nemo dat quod non-habet

  • Sale under the implied or express authority of the owner, or transfer Sof title by estoppel
  • Sale by a mercantile agent.
  • Sale by a joint owner.
  • Sale by a person in possession under a voidable contract.
  • Sale by the buyer in possession of goods before the property has been passed on to him.
  • Sale by the seller after the ownership has passed on but the seller has only the possession of such goods.
  • Re-sale by an unpaid seller after exercising lien and stoppage in transit.
  • Sale by the finder of lost goods.
  • Sale by the pawnee when the owner makes a default in payment.
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Case Laws:- Folks v. King 

In this case, an agent was bestowed by the owner to sell his car at a reserved price. On the contrary to this, the agent sold the car below the reserve price to a bona fide purchaser. The court held that since the buyer had made the purchase in good faith, thus he gets a good title.

Pearson v. Rose & Young Ltd.

In this case, the plaintiff gave the possession of his mother’s car to Hunt a mercantile agent to know whether it can be sold or not. Hunt was never authorised to sell the car. He took the car’s registration book from the plaintiff and sold the same by trick without the plaintiff’s authority or knowledge . Hunt sold the car to X , X sold it to Y and Y, in turn, sold it to the defendant. The plaintiff sued the defendant to claim damages for the unauthorised sale by Hunt.

It was held by the court that Hunt could not pass on a good title because even though he was an agent appointed by the plaintiff, he was never authorised to sell it further. Also, Hunt had obtained the registration book by trick, without which the sale could not have taken place.

Greenwood v. Bennett

In this case, Bennett the owner of a Jaguar car gave his car for repair work to Searle. Searle gave this car to fulfil his purposes, but the car met with an accident. Further, Searle went on to sell the car to Harper a garage owner. Harper was unaware of the fact that Searle did not have the ownership of the car and incurred money in the repair of the car.

The court held that as Searle did not possess the real owner of the car he was not entitled to transfer the same to Harper. Thus Harper could not pass on a good title to the finance company as well. Bennett was therefore permitted to recover back the car .


This legal maxim is applicable to all the contracts of Sale. The main purpose of the maxim is to protect the interest of the real owners. Although there are some exceptions to this rule but is enough to prevent passing on ownership by someone who doesn’t have it at all.

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